(Seri Perdana, Tuesday): The Works Minister, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu said yesterday that the decision to allow four expressway operators to raise toll is made in the interests of the majority.
He said each time the government turns down a request to increase toll, it has to compensate the concessionaire and it cannot afford to keep doing that. It was also unfair to use the money of taxpayers who do not use the highways to compensate the companies.
I fully agree with Samy Vellu that it is most unfair and completely unjustifiable to use the money of taxpayers who do not use the highways to compensate the highway concessionaires, and every ringgit spent on such compensation is a gross abuse of power and misuse of public funds.
How much has the government misused public funds in this way? I call on Samy Vellu to make public a full list of the government compensations to the various highway concessionaires under the highway privatisation programme to date.
The North-South Expressway concessionaire, Projek Lebuhraya Utara-Selatan (PLUS) and previously its predecessor-company the United Engineers Malaysia (UEM), had been the biggest beneficiaries of such gross abuse of power and misuse of public funds.
I understand that the government had paid to PLUS RM176 million in 1996, RM65 million in 1997 and RM160 million in 1998 as compensation for not being allowed to increase toll rates as stipulated in the privatisation concession - and that for this year, the UEM would again be entitled to another compensation of around RM80 million.
This means that in the four years from 1996-1999, Malaysians have been subsidising PLUS to the tune of RM481 million, at the expense of all Malaysians, including all those who do not use the North-South Expressway!
What is the use of a privatisation programme which not only imposes hardships on the motorists through high, oppressive and unconscionable toll rates, but can hold the entire Malaysian population to ransom by requiring that any shortfall in toll rate increases should be compensated by the taxpayers, even those who do not use the highways.
Right from the very beginning in the privatisation of the North-South
Expressway thirteen years ago to United Engineers Malaysia (UEM), which
was later assigned to PLUS, the exorbitant toll rates had been one of the main reasons for the DAPís objection and protest and the DAP's foresight have unfortunately been proved right.
Early last year, Samy Vellu announced that the government was re-negotiating the highway concessions, in particular with reference to the toll rates to ease the burden of commuters during the economic slowdown.
Has Samy Vellu lost the battle for the renegotiation of the highway toll rates with the concessionair, or was the battle never fought at all?
Samy Vellu seems to have abdicated his responsibility as Minister for Works to represent the best interests of the 22 million Malaysians to ensure that the highway concessionaires do not make use of their private monopoly positions to exploit the motorists and the Malaysian public to maximise their corporate profits.
Instead of being Minister for Works, Samy Vellu seems to be more of a Minister for Tolls.
This is why it is now left to the Malaysian people to demand justice
from the highway concessionaires, the Minister for Works and the Cabinet,
with two clear-cut demands:
This is why I have called a meeting of MPs regardless of political party and NGOs to a meeting in Parliament House next Tuesday at 11 a.m. to take a common stand against the unfair toll rate increase and to demand that there should be no compensation to the concessionaires from public funds.
This meeting is also extended to State Assembly members of all states who feel strongly on the issue, and I hope that MPs and State Assemblymen, whether from the government or opposition, could sink all their political differences to take a united stand on the issue of "No Unfair New Toll or Toll Rate Increase; No Compensation from public funds".
In view of the urgency of the matter and shortness of time, I will not be sending out written invitations to MPs, State Assemblymen or NGOs, and I hope they will nonetheless respond enthusiastically by showing up in full force in Parliament on Tuesday, to show to the concessionaires and the Works Ministry that they should not take the commuters as well as the general public too much for granted.
I hope to meet the Works Minister, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu before next Tuesday's meeting to get further explanations as to why the Cabinet has succumbed to the pressures of the highway concessionaires to allow them to impose burdensome, unconcionable and unjustifiable hardships not only on the motorists but the non-motoring public as well.
Yesterday, Samy Vellu criticised Kesas, the operator of the Shah Alam Expressway, for announcing that users will have to pay 20% more in toll after the Chinese New Year.
Samy Vellu denied that there will be a 20% increase and said Kesas has no right to make the announcement as he had stated that he would make the announcement after the Chinese New Year, adding "Kesas is not the master Ö the only master is the government and it is we who will make the decision on the rate of increase".
Yes, the Works Minister and the Cabinet should be the final authority or the master on the issue of highway tolls, but if in the end, the highway concessionaires are guaranteed to get their full quantum of their toll rate increase demand, whether directly through toll rate increase or indirectly through government compensation, it would appear that the Works Minister and the Cabinet are not the master on the issue after all.
I still call on Samy Vellu to immediately make announcements on the toll rate increases at the four expressways which have been approved by the Cabinet, as this concerns the most elementary principle of public accountability and democratic responsibility.